Lena Headey and Karen Gillen had never met before they played mother and daughter in the female-driven action-thriller Gunpowder Milkshake.
With Brit Headey best known as the Machiavellian Cersei Lannister in fantasy juggernaut Game Of Thrones and Scot Gillan crowned queen of the geeks thanks to her roles in Doctor Who, Jumanji and Guardians of the Galaxy, they had admired each other’s work at a distance and even been at the same conventions without ever actually chatting.
But the pair hit it off immediately, revelling in the action training for the violent scenes as highly trained assassins reunited after years apart, and loving the squad of kick-ass woman on set that also included Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino. That bond is immediately evident via Zoom when they reconvene from opposite sides of America. Sometimes it’s best just to get out of the way and let them chat …
How did you both feel about playing mother and daughter in Gunpowder Milkshake?
KG: My honest reaction was that Lena was way too young to be my mother. Personally, I don’t buy it, but I was so excited to work with her that I don’t care about that.
LH: I think that we worked out that I could have given birth to you … biologically it’s possible.
KG: Are we going to apply logic to these things? It’s Hollywood.
You hadn’t met before this, but had been fans of each other’s work?
KG: So, this is the time where I make the confession that I have not seen Game Of Thrones. But I was a big fan of Lena’s regardless – I had seen her in other things. I had just seen Fighting With My Family but I have never seen Game Of Thrones, which is insane I know. I’m about to start though.
LH: You don’t need to do it …
KG: Don’t need to do it? It’s only the most monumental TV show in recent history.
LH: Just wait for the next pandemic, and then you can. Obviously I have known Karen from Doctor Who and I think I have watched Jumanji so many times that I feel like that character lives with us and my daughter is obsessed. But also, Karen, I haven’t seen all your amazing indie work, which I need to do because all I hear is incredible stuff.
KG: That’s so sweet – but you don’t need to watch it.
LH: I’m going to f—ing watch it … just try and stop me.
KG: We could do a screening where we just show each other our work. Actually, that sounds like the most narcissistic night of our lives.
LG: Yes, it sounds hilariously awful.
How did you forge that mother-daughter connection?
KG: We had about three weeks of rehearsal time and I think we bonded pretty quickly.
LH: That first week when we were in those massive dressing rooms, I was like that annoying friend at school and would knock on Karen’s door every lunch time and be like ‘oh, hi Karen’ and I could see she was a bit like ‘oh, f— off’
KG: No! I was not!
LH: But I broke her down and pushed through.
KG: I’d forgotten you did that. It was so sweet and a great way of getting to know each other. I’m too socially awkward to do that.
Judging from your Instagram feed Karen, it looks like you had a terrible time making this in magnificent Berlin with Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino and Michelle Yeoh – do you have a favourite memory?
KG: Wine night was fun.
LH: Wine night WAS fun.
KG: All the girls went out and got drunk and crawled down the corridor of the hotel.
LH: I think we were all so knackered every night – and especially you Karen – you pretty much worked every day for hours and hours, but one night we managed to get us all together and we put the world to rights.
KG: I am just imagining if someone had walked out of their hotel room and seen all of us crawling towards them.
And who holds their booze best out of that wonderful team, surely it’s Angela Bassett?
KG: I think it’s Michelle Yeoh. I saw how much she downed – she’s so tiny – and she was fine. That’s impressive.
LH: Yeah, Michelle is a baller. But Angela too. She was still doing sexy crawling and we were all doing last dregs crawling.
While we’re having a love fest – Karen, what do you most admire about Lena?
KG: Ooooh, get ready. I was completely blown away seeing Lena’s acting in real life. I think it’s the combination of this soft-spoken thing but there is so much bubbling under the surface that’s so natural at the same time and you can inject it into a genre that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the most natural style of acting. It seems so real and I think you’re absolutely brilliant.
And Lena, same question to you about Karen?
LG: Well, that’s f—king lovely, Karen. Thank you. Here’s the thing. Acting is not rocket science but it requires vulnerability and honesty and Karen has that in spades. You can connect to Karen and for me as an actor, that’s the most important thing. And Karen is a real collaborator, and I love that.
Karen you have done some pretty serious action roles from Marvel to Jumanji, but this looked next level – how did it compare to anything you had done before?
KG: This WAS next level. I thought I was experienced in action and then I started rehearsals for this and thought ‘I have a lot to learn and a short space of time to learn it in’. I feel like I have been building towards a full-blown action film but the rehearsals were intense because there are so many action scenes and they are all so intricate and inventive. It was a huge challenge.
Lena, this was one of your first roles after Game Of Thrones – were you particularly looking for a role very removed from Cersei Lannister?
LH: I don’t put a huge amount of thought into ‘oh, I have to diversify’. I just read things and I either dig them or I’d rather not do it. I enjoyed that this wasn’t a massive commitment in terms of time but I liked the fun of it and that it was all women.
Have you been offered a million Cersei-esque roles since it finished?
LH: Yes. It’s amazing to be offered work but of course sometimes people don’t think outside the box.
How would you compare the parenting skills of Cersei compared to your Gunpowder Milkshake character, Scarlett?
LH: I think they could both do with some parenting classes. That certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
As you say, this a very female driven movie, with the great line about how men make all the rules and then change them when it fits their needs and think they can get away with anything – is there a MeToo thread through Gunpowder Milkshake that resonated with you both?
KG: I think that it’s definitely a feminist film in a great way. I wouldn’t say the main driver of the film is a feminist agenda but it’s definitely there – and I love that it’s there – but it’s also just a really fun popcorn film for people to have a good time.
Have you noticed a shift in recent years in terms of the breadth of roles available to women, particularly in the action genre?
LH: All the amplifying we are doing about the inequality within our industry is having great effect, but it’s something that we need to keep on. In terms of female equality in the industry, it’s wonderful that we are getting so many women behind the camera in great producing, directing and writing roles. I think that’s going to make a massive difference about representation, because we all know what each other is capable of.
Karen, you were just down in Australia filming Thor: Love and Thunder – how was your time here?
KG: I had the best time in Australia. I have not met one person who goes to Sydney and doesn’t say, ‘I want to move here’. You have this city but it’s also right on the water, so it’s the best of both worlds. Dave Bautista booked a yacht and we all went out on this fun boat and jumped in the water, which was so much fun. We were still in the middle of the pandemic and then you go to Australia and it felt like there wasn’t much of a pandemic. We were still being safe, but it felt like normal life again. I want to come back.
Gunpowder Milkshake is in cinemas tomorrow.
Originally published as Guns and wine: How Cersei and Nebula bonded